In what is apparently not a tie-in for the upcoming Planet of the Apes sequel, and hopefully not a portent of the end of human kind (unlike last year's five-storey waterfall of blood, which turned out to "only" be a five-storey waterfall of ancient bacteria unleashed on the world by climate change), scientists in Japan have taught chimps to play video games.
As reported in Live Science, Takaaki Kaneko of Kyoto University is studying chimpanzee cognitive skills in an attempt to understand our own, and how they came to develop. While psychology researchers have argued for years over the extent of "consciousness" present in other life forms, it is clear that many animals have at least rudimentary self-awareness; in lay terms, research has shown that some animals are not merely roving biological machines, but that they understand (to some extent) what they are and that they are separate from other beings. A simple test of self-awareness is the mirror test, which some non-human animals pass - and which most humans learn to pass in the first few years of life.
"So why did they train chimps to play video games? " you ask. Because they wanted to find out whether chimps had another trait of human cognition, the sense of agency. Basically, this takes self-awareness a step further - not only do you understand that you are you, but you are aware that you are in control of your actions and affect the world around you. The Kyoto researchers found not only that chimps could operate a video game using a touchscreen, but that they were able to discern which object they were in control of out of a group of moving objects, and that the chimps were able to move them from one location to another to get a reward.
There's much more detail available here, but the bottom line is there's now one less thing that humans can do that other animal's can't. Next thing you know they'll be teaming up with my little nephew to kick my ass at Wii bowling.
[Image credit: Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University]